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Ravens position-by-position draft preview: Tight end

Whether the Ravens have been coming off a Super Bowl victory or a season in which they fell short of the playoffs, team officials have never put a greater importance on any single draft. Their stated focus has always been on the one immediately in front of them.

It's indisputable, though, that the 2018 version is arriving at a critical time for the organization. The Ravens have missed the playoffs in three consecutive years, the longest stretch since they failed to qualify for the postseason in their first four seasons in Baltimore. Fan frustration with one of the most stable franchises in the NFL might be at an all-time high, evidenced by the number of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium last year as the team fought for a playoff berth. General manager Ozzie Newsome is preparing for his final season in his current position and the 2018 season will also bring questions about the futures of several other long-term franchise mainstays, including coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

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With several holes on the offensive side of the ball, the pressure is on the Ravens' top decision makers to turn their draft currency into immediate roster help. The Ravens will head into the three-day draft, which gets underway on April 26, with eight total picks: one each in the first (16th overall), second (52nd), third (83rd), fourth (118th), fifth (154th) and seventh (238th) rounds, and two in the sixth round (190th and 215th).

Through Wednesday, the day before the start of the three-day draft, The Baltimore Sun will break down what the Ravens have at each position, the chance that they will add to it and what prospects could possibly be targeted with those picks.

Today we'll look at tight ends.

Current tight ends under contract: Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle

Chances that the Ravens will draft a tight end in first three rounds: High. All along, the team's top decision-makers considered a pass-catching tight end to be just as big of a need as a wide receiver. To this point, they've failed to fill it as they've finished as an also-ran in the free-agent bidding for Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton and Eric Ebron. The good news for the Ravens is that this draft features a pretty impressive tight end class. There's no sure-fire first-round pick in the group, but Hayden Hurst, Dallas Goedert and Mike Gesicki could all come off the board anywhere from the late first to the middle of the second round. The Ravens will have to be prepared to pounce relatively early if they want a top tight end.

Possibly on Ravens' radar: Mark Andrews (Oklahoma), Mike Gesicki (Penn State), Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State), Hayden Hurst (South Carolina), Ian Thomas (Indiana)

Outlook: Hurst and Goedert are considered the draft's top two tight ends, but the Ravens taking either with the 16th overall pick would seem to be a bit of a reach. The problem for the Ravens is both will probably be gone — and Gesicki could be as well — by the time they prepare to make their second-round pick. If the Ravens trade back in the first round, that could be a spot to grab a tight end, or they could try to trade up in the second — as they did to get Williams in 2015 — to make sure they get the best available player at the position. Andrews and Thomas, a Baltimore native who fits the profile the Ravens are looking for, could be available in the third round. Most of the draft's top tight ends aren't known for their blocking, but that shouldn't be a big deal for the Ravens. Boyle and Williams are good blockers and fine as underneath targets. The Ravens need to come out of this draft with a complement to them in the form of a fast, athletic tight end who can make plays down the field. It's really not a question of whether the Ravens take a tight end. It's a matter of when they turn in the card.

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